Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, published in 2008, is a novel set in 17th century colonial America and is ostensibly about a time in which slavery was not inextricably linked to race. The story is told partially through the first person narration of Florens, a Black, sixteen year old, female slave who has been painfully, abruptly, unforgivably separated from her mother and sold into a household bereft of roots and struggling to survive.
Through Florens, Morrison explores the topics of forced parental abandonment, the search for an identity in a society that tells a Black girl that she cannot create one, the experience of a first love that is powerful, intoxicating, and all-consuming, disillusionment with religion, and the search for sisterhood. I love Florens, I know Florens, I am Florens. Morrison achieved the wondrous feat of creating a convincing, poetic 17th century experience that rang true to a woman-girl reading it in 2013.
I was inspired to analyze and embody the experience of Florens through a poetic exploration of her gendered oppression. I wrote these short poems in reflection of Florens’ experiences in the novel, but they are deeply grounded in my personal experiences.
They say I/ They say I can/ They say I will/ They say I think/ They say I feel/ They move and act/They say it and it becomes/They think and it affects/ But this I has never been mine/ i only know you are/ You are not/ You move/ You work/ You birth/She is dumb/ She is lazy/ She is worthless/ She is worth much/ She is mine/ And now she is yours/ Use her/ Beat her/ Bruise her/ Break her into/ Herself/ Break her into what is useful/ Break her into this New World/We are brilliant they say for mining this natural resource/ How clever, how efficient, how economic/ But now i say i am/ i say i feel/ i feel myself, my skin, my thoughts they have shape/ And from thence i speak/ i feel and say that i am alive and thus have made myself alive
Blank. i came from nothing. i came from everything. i was stolen. And formed. Spread wide open, my intestines, my lungs, my heart, my uterus, my stomach, my bowels. All removed. i was gutted and my parts weighed. Am i good or am i bad? Can i be saved? Can i be used? Can anything be salvaged from this savage? Yes. i am fitting. i will do just fine. Don’t you see this is what they were meant to do? Look at those hands, those feet, those tits, that womb. They are created. For this. i am created.
He lifts her, joyfully, and places her underneath him
The hunter and the hunted roll, harmlessly, together in the sheets
He says I love the way you say my name
He says I love your baby making frame
He says you complement the best parts of me
He says in my bed you can be free
He says you are a mirror to my supremacy
He says my rib in you shines luminescently
He says we are not equal but one in the same
He says I need you to be my frame
He strokes, gently, the wounds he made
The man enters the woman and, lovingly, conquers
In his name they came and brought with them blisters and sores
In his name they saved my soul and shackled my feet
In his name I was made whole and torn apart
In his name fire and guns and a sadness
In his name we are ravished
In his name we die
In his name
within us there is a power
deep and bottomless
we stand trodden upon
but with hands
Our love was not perfect but it was beautiful and innocent enslaved but free we were free in love
Oh a minha mae i might have known you we might have loved as mothers
and daughters love but i am given away
like an unwanted pair of shoes left to walk on my own with an owner of my body but not my heart you had my heart a minha mae you had my heart and gave it away punched holes in it you bled me there are gaps openings breaks
they must be filled they must be filled they must be filled they must be filled they must be filled